Breaking bad means breaking patterns

Have you ever wondered why people steal? We view theft as a wrong action, and of course it is, but do we ever get down to the root-cause of the ‘wrong action’ or do we assume that the person committing the act is all together bad? We’ve been talking about the different ways people steal from themselves and others, whether it’s stealing from our own or someone else’s energy sources without giving back or it’s stealing for survival or status, there are plenty of ways in which we steal. The funny thing is though, I’ve only really been able to research and identify two reasons which drive us to steal: 1) out of fear and 2) out of a need to impress.Mermaids

If we think about it, both stem from the idea that we are not enough; either we don’t have enough to meet our basic needs and we fear we never will or we feel that we are lacking in some intangible way, flawed in some character, and we want to build ourselves up in front of others.  But, why do we feel the need to do these things when we know that stealing is a wrong action? Likely, it has to do with our patterns, our tendencies, our samskaras (impressions).

We’ve talked in the past about the idea that our truths are colored by our perceptions, experiences, histories, and these samskaras (impressions) are the pathways left behind by these previous actions. These impressions are habitual patterns which can manifest in both positive and negative ways based on whether we have perceived something as positive or negative. In yoga, we believe that like creates like, meaning that when our patterns are negative, like stealing, we’re likely to continue to repeat them if we do not intentionally work toward breaking negative patterns and finding an alternative, more positive path.

The good news is that the opposite is also true, if we our intentional about the way in which we live and view the world, we are more likely to develop positive samskaras (impressions). Asteya (non-stealing) teaches us to live abundantly, to live in the space of not only the avoidance of taking that which does not belong to us, but also the space in which we freely give of ourselves. By looking for ways to give of our time and talents without the expectation of return on investment, we begin to build positive habits which ultimately leads to true happiness, the knowledge that we are exactly enough.

A day late, and not at all short…

hulkSometimes my mom jokes (great mom, goofy jokes…) with the three of us (I have two sisters) that we’re, “a day late and a dollar short,” and while she is most assuredly joking, she always punctuates this statement with a goofy little chortle, when said in a serious tone this statement is stealing. Think about it, it’s the equivalent of saying that something someone has done or given is not nearly enough. Not enough, how can that be?

In all fairness, this phrase is typically said in response to an apology; in an instance in which someone has wronged us and then tried to make amends. Unfortunately, based on our history, our experiences, the apology doesn’t come close to covering the hurt that we felt/feel and rather than forgive, we hold on for dear life. Now I’m making a supposition here, but I bet you thought this week’s conversation was going to be about forgiving for the sake of the person who’s wronged us. And while I whole-heartedly believe that forgiveness in general does make the world a better place, this week we’re talking about how forgiveness makes us better people.

For the last week or so, I’ve been looking at asteya (non-stealing) through a different lens. Since developing my new found appreciation for the nuances of this, the third yama (restraint), I’ve come to realize that I am supremely guilty of stealing – from myself. And I’d wager here that stealing from ourselves is an affliction for the vast majority of us. As care-givers it is our purpose (dharma) to give unconditionally, and as compassionate, loving individuals we’re good at doing so, but maybe a little too good…

There are so many things I want to share, to give, in order to help make the world a better place in my own small way. For me, my dharma (purpose) is to change the world through teaching and teaching yoga. What’s more, I love teaching, so much so that at times I run myself a little ragged. I fill my time with so many responsibilities that, while I enjoy each of them, sometimes I find myself a little depleted.

It is true that fulfilling our purpose is energizing and rejuvenating, but no matter how much we love something if we don’t find balance in caring for ourselves as much as we care for others, we’re going to make ourselves sick. And that right there is why this week’s post is a day late. I won’t go so far as to say that I’m a dollar short because I needed the time to recharge and become whole, and so I gave myself permission to take care of me first this time and I’m forgiving myself for not meeting my goal of posting every Thursday.

Being able to forgive ourselves is definitely the first step, because if we don’t view ourselves as worthy of forgiveness how can anyone else be worthy? But, that’s not where the work stops. It is imperative that in addition to forgiving ourselves we forgive others without pause, not because forgiveness it good for those who’ve wronged us, although that’s a pretty awesome side-effect, it’s because forgiving others is just as good for ourselves. When we hold on to anger, usually the only people we’re harming (himsa) is ourselves. The people who’ve hurt us move on, but we stagnate and as a result begin to close ourselves off little by little until one day our hearts are entirely shut down. So, I ask that we eliminate from our society this idea of too little, too late and work instead on forgiveness for the sake of ourselves.

Privilege doesn’t help

Our blog is unintentionally privileged, while it absolutely unintentional, it is also unabashedly so. If I haven’t made it clear already, let me state it outright: we love yoga, and personally, it is my very favorite thing. With that comes all of the responsibilities associated with abiding by the ashtanga, eight-limbs of yoga, and other yogic moral philosophies, you know – assuming you’re into that sort of thing. It’s easy for me to say that this is how we, the Playful Yogi, choose to live our lives and that we hope to inspire others to take steps to do the same, and that is privilege.

I will say that neither Emily nor I are particularly well-off financially, as graduate students we’ve been able to amass a great deal of student loan debt in an attempt to pay for our advanced educations. But, that was a choice we each made, a choice that not everyone is given. I know that when I (finally!) leave school, while I will likely never be making a six-figure salary, I will have enough. Enough of everything I truly need. Maybe I won’t have a giant yacht or a fancy car, maybe I won’t even be able to take an overseas vacation, but I will live in a home which is safe and clean. I will have enough high-quality food to eat and clean drinking water. I will have the love of my family and friends and so I will be easily able to live abundantly.

I don’t mean to say that I will be living a rock-n-roll lifestyle, I likely won’t ever be able to afford it (subtle Cake reference here…). But, I will live knowing that everything will be alright because while I may have hardships of one kind or another, everything will in fact be alright. I mention this today because I planned to write about asteya, non-stealing, again this week, and then I realized that going on and on about my newly found appreciation for the nuances of asteya, non-stealing, is a practice against ahimsa, non-harming. You see, I’ve been reading very well-intentioned blogs citing Patnajali’s Yoga Sturas, a book written about yoga by the sage Patanjali, and stating that if we do not steal all of the things will come to us.

These blogs do go on to read that we still have to work hard for a living, not fall prey to any of the pitfalls of theft of which there are many, and live abundantly in order to have our needs met. This is actually a very tall order, but doable for we who are privileged.  Additionally, these blogs responsibly caution that living abundantly does not mean living a rock-n-roll lifestyle. The idea isn’t that living this yama, restraint, is going to bring me, or Emily, or any of us for that matter great wealth, instead it’s the recognition that having our needs met simply means getting the basics out of life and through living the pillars, as noted above, of asteya, non-stealing, we are more easily able to identify that our needs are met.

These are all excellent points, points that I too would have made, but what stopped me is that I have yet to see in these wonderful blogs the consideration that we live in a different world than the one which existed during Patanjali’s time. We live in a highly publicized, continuous news cycle society in which we are inundated with images of the haves and the have-nots, on multiple levels of existence. While, I am certainly not advocating for complete distribution of wealth, because we also live in a capitalistic society… I am

Change your view, change your perspective – that’s when real change is possible.

suggesting that we pause and recognize that while stealing, lying, and harming are unequivocally unacceptable, we are all culprits to differing degrees.

Therefore, maybe we should be better at asking the why’s and what’s of a given situation before persecuting the quote-unquote perpetrator. Regardless though, we need to be better at recognizing that even though we are all one, culturally speaking we do not all have the same opportunities and that is a shame. Who knows, maybe by tweaking our perspectives we’ll truly be able to end the pandemic of privilege and live a yogic lifestyle.

Intention is key

It’s incredible to me how much we take for granted in our everyday lives; for instance, asteya (non-stealing) is something I have been taking for granted for as long as I can remember. You see, I have had almost no problem discussing ahimsa (non-harming) and satya (righteous truth), our Playful Yogi topics in July and August respectively, because 1) I consider IMG_0411both of these topics to be incredibly nuanced, i.e. easily manipulated to advance our own needs and 2) they’ve sadly been the topic of nearly every news story I’ve read, heard, or watched over the last several months. Sigh… But, I have honestly been dreading writing about asteya (non-stealing), the third of the five yamas (restraints) of the Ashtanga (eight-limbs of yoga).
I should clarify, I don’t steal – at least not in the obvious sense of the word. I’ve even been known to go so far as to count my change to make sure no one has inadvertently given me more than my due. Or ask, “Did you charge me for this,” before walking away from a check-out line. But, in researching this topic I’ve been reading the thoughts of yoga teachers abound whom identify with the idea that there is so much more to asteya than simply the practice of not taking things which don’t belong to me. Ugh, it turns out I’ve been failing at the one yama (restraint) which I’ve always assumed was the easiest to abide by!
It’s true officer, I’m a thief. Ok-ok, we’ve established I’m not the all-black wearing, cat burglar-ing in the wee hours of the night, lock ‘em up and throw away the keys*** kind of thief, but I steal none the less. For instance, when I was completing my 200-hour teacher training program, I was having trouble with a pose in my personal practice and I asked the trainers about it while we were discussing that pose and only after they had asked if we had any questions about the pose. But, I was informed that my question was a form of stealing; I was stealing the learning time and attention of the trainers away from the other members of my cohort by asking a personal practice question during training.
I honestly had related to that idea at the time; I could understand why asking a personal practice question may have infringed on the learning process of others. And, I could justify my actions to myself, by telling myself that my problem wasn’t an isolated one. I was sure that at some point in our teaching careers each of us would encounter students with a similar issue, therefore it would benefit all of us to hear what our trainer’s response would be, right? …Wrong, and here’s why:
My intention wasn’t to ask for the truly altruistic purpose of ensuring that we would each be armed with a process of correction for a student having a similar issue, my intention was to better my practice. Boom! That’s really what it all boils down to, isn’t it? What is our intention? That should be the first question we ask ourselves when deciding to take action because, after all, our actions have consequences. And, while none of the other teacher trainees in my class may have felt as if I was stealing their time and the attention of our trainers from the full group without it having been called out, it doesn’t change the consequence – their learning would have been impaired.
The argument could be made that by stealing, in this case, we all would have benefited, but the truth is it doesn’t matter. I stole, not for the well-being of all, but rather for the well-being of me and that was and continues to be wrong. The unintended consequences to my actions were that we may have missed out on a far more important conversation, a conversation by which not engaging in it, in turn, may have  truly hindered our abilities to teach yoga. At this point there’s no way to know that for sure of course, but I have been taking that interaction for granted. Up until I began my research into asteya (non-stealing) I hadn’t given that interaction another thought, which makes me wonder what else have I unintentionally stolen since that day during teacher training – probably countless moments, among other things. And so, I vow to no longer take astyea for granted. As one yogi put it, “Everything in life has a value. Non-stealing means respecting this value,” and I intend to do just that.
***A note, the comment about, “throwing away the key,” is meant as a joke and in no way does the Playful Yogi believe in throwing away anyone’s key. We believe whole-heartedly in second, third, fourth…, and so on chances – this goes back to value and it is a topic we will discuss in the weeks to come. Stay tuned.